Elwood 5566

Accents Misunderstood

Posted in esl by 노강호 on June 24, 2012

As an Englishmen, I get pissed off at the fact so many Koreans think there are only two English accents; namely British and American. And I get even more pissed off by the fact so many place a higher value on American English. But this is hardly surprising as I’ve probably spoken to five Americans in my life who told me they didn’t have accents and perhaps because America has had such a profound impact on the peninsula, Koreans mistakenly believe there is only one American accent – if an accent at all!  How ignorant do you have to be not just of the nature of your own country, but the world beyond, especially with TV and movies, to be unaware that you have an accent! I don’t place too much faith in British education but British people are very aware of their accents not least because for centuries it has been a mark of social class.

Rab C Nesbitt and his hard Glaswegian accent…

I know of at least one English hagkwon franchise in Korea that insists its teachers teach with an American accent and I wonder which accent they prefer you to use. One internet source, the validity of which I have no idea, claims American accents can basically be categorised as follows:

The West
California English
Utah English
Pacific Northwest English

Southern American English
Deep South
Upper South
New Orleans
Acadiana: Cajun French
Central and South Florida

St. Louis and vicinity
The Inland North
Northern Cities Vowel shift
North Central

Eastern Dialects:
Eastern New England
New Yorker

Mid-Atlantic Region Dialects:
Northeastern Pennsylvania
Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley
Pittsburgh English
Buffalo New York English

And then there is General American, which is what most Media Broadcasters use.

As for English accents (not including Scotland, Ireland and Wales), there are probably just as many under the main divisions, initially by region, eg. South, North, West and East and then by town or counties, including: Oxford English, Queen’s English, Cockney, Bristol and west country, Lancaster, Yorkshire, Tyne, Scouse, Mancunian, Brummie, Geordie, Essex and Cornwall, etc. The interesting point about English-English accents is that they often have their own names, ‘Brummie’ for example, is the accent associated with Birmingham. Perhaps this highlights a greater awareness of accents among English (British) people and certainly English people often rank accents according to an unwritten social hierarchy. And let’s not forget the wonderful BBC English accent that was pertinent only to TV and which reigned during my childhood.

Notice how the American boy doesn’t know he has an accent…

If you watch British television, and it is probably the same in every other English speaking country, exposure to other major accents has developed a familiarity with foreign accents and viewers are as comfortable watching a show with an American accent as they are New Zealand, South African or Australian. Indeed, in Britain, some people would actually be more at ease watching something in Australian than from the other end of their own country.


With increasing globalization it becomes even more necessary to interact with major and even regional accents and insisting teachers speak only with ‘an American’ accent is doing students a disservice. Every time I ask a Korean what their hobby is, they pull a dumbfounded face at which point I rescue them by saying, ‘habby.’ Rather than running from accents, students should be exposed to them and would very quickly learn the differences are actually fairly small.

As for the amusing video…

This post was actually prompted by the above video which I first saw on Wet Casements

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An Old Favourite – ‘The Supplanter’

Posted in Blogging, Education, esl by 노강호 on March 5, 2012

I’ve always enjoyed reading The Supplanter. Being a fellow Brit I enjoy his humour and we seem to share a common ground in our experience and analysis of Korean culture. Of more importance, it nearly always elicits a smile. When I first stumbled upon The Supplanter, around three years ago, I remember sitting up to the early hours of the morning reading some very amusing posts. Originally based in Korea, The Supplanter has relocated to China but he still publishes occasional posts on issues relevant to South Korea. The following is an extract from Teacher Bloopers:

Middle School, speaking test preparation after school class:

Me: ‘What’s your Father’s job?’

Student: ‘He no work’

Me: ‘He doesn’t work. Or you can say He is unemployed’

Student: ‘No, my Father dead’

Me: ‘Oh, erm, sorry to hear that’


Women’s University, Seoul, speaking test:

Me: ‘Describe your ideal man’

Student: ‘I don’t like men’

Me: ‘Why?’

Student: ‘I’m a lesbian’

Me: ‘Good answer’


At Elementary Summer Camp, Seoul, speaking to a parent about her son’s strange behaviour:

Me: ‘Your son pulls out his hair and tries to eat it. I’m very worried about him’

Mother: ‘Yes, he does that’

Me: ‘Do you know why?’

Mother: ‘The doctor says he’s worried about things. Stressed’

Me: ‘Yes, clearly he’s very stressed. What did the doctor say to do?’

Mother: ‘Oh doctor said he’d grow out of it and if it gets bad we can get a …? I don’t know the English …’ (Mimes)

Me: ‘A wig?’

Mother: ‘Yes! That’s it – Wig!’


Exiting from building in a Chinese university:

Me: [Walks into knee high metal bollard] OH FUCK ME!!!

[Shocked students turn to observe foreign teacher hobbling away in agony]

Me: [Looking up] ‘Oh, hello Dean … I …’


In conversation with a teaching assistant, University, China:

Me: ‘I really think you should change your English name, Enoch is not a good name if you’re British’

TA: ‘Why? I like it’

Me: ‘Well, it tends to make British people think of Enoch Powell, who was a racist politician’

TA: ‘You mean he hated black people?’

Me: ‘Well yes, amongst others …’

TA: ‘Me too’

Me: ‘Umm, that’s a terrible thing to say, but he’d also hate you too!’

TA: ‘Why? I’m not black!’

Me: ‘He didn’t like anyone who wasn’t white – or British – or not Christian’

TA: ‘Well, I’m not Christian, maybe he’d like me!’

Me: ‘… I think you’ve misunderstood, let me put it another way … Just change your name, ok?’


Responding to text from Female Chinese Student in Advanced English class:

Student: ‘I really like your class! Your so funny! But, I need some help, can I come and see you?’

Me: ‘Thank you, glad you enjoy the class. Come and see me before or after the lesson’

Student: ‘No, I mean we should meet up’

Me: ‘Yes, before or after lesson is fine’

Student: ‘No, I want to come to your apartment. We can hang out, watch a movie. I stay with you because dormitory close at midnght. Too early’

Me: ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. Bye’


Middle school, Seoul, in conversation with the baseball coach:

Korean Teacher: ‘Discipline is hard these days … students think they can do what they want …’

Me: ‘Well, they’re much better behaved than English students’

KT: ‘Really? I always thought English people were well behaved’

Me: ‘No’

KT: ‘Hmmnn … I got suspended last semester because I disciplined a student’

Me: ‘Really? What happened?’

KT: ‘Oh I just hit his legs with a baseball bat … and not broke but …’

Me: ‘Fracture?’

KT: ‘Yes – fracture! His parents complain … so I got suspended. You can’t harm students these days, parents complain about everything …’

Me: ‘…’


Eliciting from low-level students, University, China

Me: ‘So, here are things you like [indicates board] But what about things you don’t like – or dislike?’

Students: [Silence]

Me: ‘What do you dislike? Don’t like?’

Student 1: ‘Hate?’

Me: ‘No. Too strong. Dislike – Don’t like.’

Student 1: ‘Japanese?’

Me: ‘What?’

Student 1: ‘Hate Japanese’

Me: ‘No, no … not hate … and not Japanese. Dislike – don’t like – Hate [gesticulates] too strong’

Student 2: ‘Japanese people?’

Me: ‘No, no, no!’

Student 3: ‘Japanese culture?’

Me: ‘No! something else – forget the Japanese’


Me: ‘Anything else you dislike – don’t like – but not the Japanese’

Student 1: ‘Chinese people … Chinese people cannot forget Japanese’

Me: ‘Ok – write on your sheets things you don’t like – dislike – but NOT JAPANESE’

Me: [Checking answer sheets] ‘So, everyone has written Japanese …’

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Further References:

The Supplanter

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Screw the air con! Give me some Korean lessons!

Posted in Education, esl, Korean language by 노강호 on September 22, 2011

Speech impediments have always amused me and as a child I knew a shop in Edinburgh, where I holidayed every summer with my sister, that provided us a double treat because not only was it a sweet shop, but the owner had a massive problem pronouncing sibilants. Visiting her shop for a bag of cinnamon balls and some sour plums was one of our first adventures when we arrived in the city, for summer.  Even to this day, my sister and I still reminisce about the, ‘Yesh lady,’ and the various means we used to illicit her to say ‘yesh’ or ‘shower plumsh.’

don’t expect to be ‘fed’ in return

If I still had a childish sense of humour, and was ignorant to the detrimental effects such humour has on successful second language acquisition, I could have such fun taking the piss out of badly pronounced ‘Engrish.’ Let’s see, ‘I’m pine!’ is a very common blunder. Then there’s ‘I like flied lice’ or ‘egg flied.’ ‘Pacuum-creaner’ always fucks them as does ‘pish and chips.’ Unfortunately, my professionalism stifles the potential for amusement.

But have you noticed that Korean kids will take the piss out of your attempts at Korean. Almost on a daily basis I will hear students commenting on my pronunciation and even mimicking my attempts. Okay, the kids I can tolerate but when adults do it, though never ill-intended, it gradually grates. I have numerous friends, truly good friends, who nonetheless will ridicule my best efforts. I’ve even had friends write down my mistakes so they can subsequently recount them. Some of my gaffs concern confusing ‘eagle’ with ‘oak’ and ‘ginger’ with ‘thinking’ which have resulted in my asking for ‘eagle curd’ and ‘thinking’ in the supermarket. Then there is the confusion between ‘Dan Goon’ (단군) the legendary founder of Korea and ‘dang geun’ which is the common garden carrot! Indeed, the moment you start to use any languages that veers from the basic, especially idioms or snippets from the Thousand Character Classic  (千字文 – 천자문), and you can guarantee you will deemed highly amusing.

robot English teacher

And if I make an amusing cock-up the chances are its nature will be shared with every class in my school. I don’t mind someone having a giggle at my gaffs but have the decency, after you’ve had a laugh, to help me correct them! I used to criticise those foreigners who’ve spent ten years in Korea and can’t string a sentence together and now I am approaching my sixth year on the peninsula I am beginning to realise that it’s probably much easier to learn Korean back in England than it is in Korea.

As a nation, Koreans are immensely selfish at turning every encounter with a foreigner into an opportunity for them to learn English. How many times have I discovered a Korean who spoke little English and could tolerate my ponderous Korean only to have them ask several days later, if I could teach them English. I’m sure a great many friendships between Koreans and native English speakers are inspired through the desire to extend English speaking skills and though I admire conviction and single-mindedness, some of my friends have forgotten the original ‘contract,’ namely, that friendship was mutually beneficial in terms of our respective languages. In more than one case, I have friends who used my help and years later are now competent English speakers while I’m still waiting for my first lesson. And the boredom that flits across their faces if I ask a Korean-language related question deters all but the most important inquiry.

It might be assumed that living in Korea would be a massive advantage, and it probably is if you are working or studying in a Korean speaking environment, but for English language teachers it is often the case that they are dissuaded from making an effort to learn Korean. The less Korean you speak the greater your value for money and the less you will understand your working life – something which seems to empower some bosses.  On ESL job boards for China or the Middle East, lessons in the native language are often included in the employment package along with other standard incentives such as internet connections or air conditioning. In Korea however, though there are exceptions and more enlightened employers, there seems a complete ignorance that many westerners come to Korea not just because it’s a job but because they want to experience and better understand Korean culture.

Koreans treat language as an academic tool, as almost exclusively a qualification the mastering of which provides a rung up the academic and social ladder. This is evident by the structuring of Korean-English exams where the emphasis isn’t on an ability to communicate, but to identify and correct grammatical errors.  Occasionally, the questions that have to be answered would puzzle and bewilder the most proficient and articulate of native English speakers. Recently, a top Korean school attempted to change the nature of its instruction and to focus on effective communication. Parents however, weren’t happy and demanded a return to rote learning and grammar because English in Korea is not about communication and is treated in much the same way as classical Latin or Greek, in other words, as a ‘dead language’. Not forgetting that both the USA and UK have the world’s poorest second language acquisition, there are westerners on the Korean peninsula for whom learning Korean is not an academic tool but a means of communication which has the potential to help better understand Korean culture and the Korean psyche.

How Koreans perceive second language acquisition has been influenced by their experience of the language learning process.   If language is about grammar, is predominantly written rather than spoken, if it is taught in isolation of history and culture, it if is about grades and exams, if  written English is given more importance than spoken English,  then it is understandable why they should be so negative or dismissive of a foreigner’s interest in learning Korean. Of all the potential approaches to the study of a language, Korea has managed to extract and venerate the most boring and I would imagine the learning of classical Greek or Latin, where at least you are treated to primary sources, would be more engaging. Considering the number of years Korean kids learn English, I rarely meet ones whose command of spoken English impresses me. On the other hand, a great number of them have superior writing skills to their native English speaking peers.  And we should not forget, Koreans do better job learning languages than we do in dumbass Britain where a recent report claim 10% of ten year old boys have the reading age of a seven year old – and that’s in their native language!

In Korea, if you want to learn Korean you’re very much on your own!  And though you would think it easy to find a Korean student or adult to help you in your quest, the reality is few have sufficient free time. Koreans are either too obsessed with the development of their own English skills, too busy using you to earn money, or too constrained by other pressures, to help you learn Korean. Of course there are exceptions! Korea is an amazing country but personally, of the numerous places I have lived for an extended period of time, Koreans have been the least helpful in improving my skills and the most demanding in the pursuit of improving their own. And if you find a Korean friend who has not the slightest interest in learning English, and they do exist, you are truly blessed.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

A Tale of Philosophers and Carrots

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Education, esl, Korean language, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on March 8, 2011

podcast 74

There is a Korean ‘idiom, dang-guen-i-ji (당근이지 – that’s the carrot, or absolutely!). Now, this isn’t directly borrowed from English but is apparently a development, by children, of dang-hyeon ha-ji (당연 하지 – absolutely!) If you say them repeatedly and alternatively, dang-guen-i-ji is definitely easier.

dang-guen (당근) the carrot, a familiar Korean crudité

So, one day I am buying something in a shop and use my newly acquired idiom and proudly ‘joke, ‘ ‘dan-goon-i-chi ‘(단군이지). The old lady serving gives me a funny look, no doubt amazed at my ability to use colloquial Korean. That day, I use the phrase several times and not just overdo its use but probably use it in slightly odd situations and this, so I believe, accounts for the bemused faces it induces.

Dan Goon (단군), legendary founder of Korea, 2333 BC

A week or so later, I use it after having my hair cut and then I discover, I’ve been confusing the Dan-goon Wang-geom (단군왕검), the revered emperor-philosopher with dang-guen (당근), the common carrot. In translation, I suppose Dan Goon-i-ji might be rendered, ‘that’s the Socrates,’ or ‘that’s the Wittgenstein,’ depending on your current taste in philosophical schools. I should have realised my mistake earlier as I have a long history of confusing the legendary founder of Korea with Bugs Bunny’s favourite crudité.

Part of the course in learning a language is that you make mistakes and some of them can be amusing even if they do cause embarrassment.  I’m probably quite famous in the area in which I live for entertaining locals with my bumblings.  One of the local Monday morning market vendors was very bemused when she realised that the ‘eagle jelly’ I was asking for, was in fact ‘acorn jelly’ and on more than one occasion I’ve asked for, ‘some thinking,’ rather than ‘some ‘ginger.’

I’ve been there so many times! (link to Lulu)

In English the sounds ‘kan’ (간) and ‘kang’ (강) or  ‘tan’ (탄) and ‘tang’ (탕) are very easy to distinguish but this is not the case in Korean. For years I’ve heard and read silly arguments between western taekwondo students quibbling about the transliteration of terminology into English without realizing that the relationship between many Korean letters and English ones is an approximation and that many simply cannot be effectively captured with a letter of the English alphabet. English script isn’t adequate enough to differentiate the sounds  of its own language let alone those of another  as is borne out by the discrepancies between the ‘a’ in ‘cat and ‘father’ which result in disagreements between those speaking northern  and southern variations of British English.  Koreans for example, finalise a word ending in ‘n’ with the tongue between their teeth and distinguishing between some sounds often necessitates watching the mouth closely. So, I often mispronounce ‘soy-sauce’ and end up asking for ‘liver sauce’ and confuse ‘soup’ with ‘briquette.’ ‘The reason I’ve spent so long mispronouncing Dan Goon (단군) is because it was one of the first 10 Korean words I learnt some 30 years ago when I began training in taekwon-do. Many non-Korean TKD teachers mispronounce the word because the transliteration often rendered it ‘Dan Gun.’ If you want to pronounce Korean accurately you have to learn the Korean script or at least study the systems of transliteration used closely so as to avoid simply producing ‘approximate’ pronunciations.


And then there’s ‘ddong’ ( 똥 – shit)!  A westerner only has to attempt the combination ‘dong’  (동 – east) to elicit laughter and hence ‘dong-sa’ (동사 – verb) and ‘dong-wui-o’ (동의어 – synonym) have the potential to temporarily disrupt English lessons.  Maybe it’s just my lack of ability, but it seems no matter how hard you try, Korean kids seem to choose to hear ‘dong’  (east) as ‘ddong’ (shit).

and I love mandu

Some Koreans, can be quite cruel in their derision should you attempt to speak their language and even ‘sounding’ a word  or phrase in a Korean manner, can elicit sniggers and subsequent mimickery.  I’ve even known friends write my blunders down so they can  narrate them to others but I don’t mind as I too have learnt such blunders, regardless of nationality, are cute and on occasion my pen comes out to record  mistakes.

First, there are the obvious ones:

I’m fine – I’m pine

I like fish – I like pish.

Last week a new student appeared in a class and a student informed me, ‘there is a new pace in the class.’

‘I like crab’ usually always sounds like, ‘I like crap.’

And there is always the older boy who tries to impress you with his knowledge of ‘naughty English’ and proudly states, ‘puk-you! On the subject of four letter vulgarity, ‘vacuum cleaner’ becomes ‘pak-um creaner.’

How about, ‘make a mistake,’ which students often repeat as ‘make a steak’ or similarly, ‘be careful,’ which becomes ‘big apple.’ I hadn’t thought of combining the two but there’s a  laugh  when I want to exact some revenge; ‘be careful not to make a mistake’ – ‘big apple not to make a steak.’

However, the one I remember best was years ago when a colleague was teaching a class to sing, Queen’s, ‘We Will Rock You.’ The kids were thoroughly enjoying the sing along as they loudly sang,  ‘we will, we will LOCK you.’

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

A 'Sick' Site

Posted in Education, esl by 노강호 on September 20, 2010

Learning to swear in English

On the subject of teaching swear words to language learners…

When I lived in Germany I had some friends who attended a dinner party hosted by a high-ranking officer. At the party were a couple of middle-aged Germans who had been trying to improve their English . There was a tense silence when, as the port was being passed down the table, one of the Germans declared, proudly and loudly,  ‘vat a facking gut dinner!’ Teaching swear words can have severe repercussions!

My humour is childish but I don’t really care: laughing is good for you and a hearty laugh every day is as beneficial as a little work out.

So, when I accidentally fell onto a Korean produced vodcast focusing on teaching Koreans how to swear, I was rather interested. I was reminded of my first hakkwon experience back in 2000, where one teacher would invent lyrics to the songs that were slowly driving him mad. One day he called me into his class after he’d changed the words of a song from:

‘I’m clicking cat, how do you do? I’ve got the loveliest smile for you…’


‘I’m clicking clit, how do you do? I’ve got the creamiest clit for you…’

Yes! It was very unprofessional but watching a class of 5 year olds sing a song about ‘clit’s and ‘creamy pussies’ was absolutely hilarious. It’s no justification, but somehow the tedious classes and money grabbing boss who insisted teachers only taught one letter of the alphabet every two weeks, and who treated you badly, diminished any sense of loyalty, responsibility or professional ethic.

Watching a Korean teacher swear in English is just as funny and I’ve replayed the vodcast several times giggling at the incongruity of a Korean (with an accent), saying words like ‘bitch’ and ‘fucking.’ If he was a Korean without a Korean accent it wouldn’t be the least funny. And when he then tells his students not to use swear words, but to listen for them, so that you ‘know what the western bastard is saying,’ all the time with the word ‘fucking’ incorrectly spelt on the blackboard – well, I’m laughing even more. Personally, I’ve never heard the word ‘sick’ used to mean ‘good’ but maybe that’s an Americanism.

Learning to swear in English

I’ve since discovered the Blog,  Brian in Jeollanamdo extensively covered this vodcast  back in July 2010,  and with some pertinent comments, but I nonetheless thought it worth including.

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Feeding Mummy's Milk

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Education, esl, Korean children by 노강호 on September 5, 2010


I’m often amazed at the blunders Koreans make in translating English and anyone who has lived in Korea even a short time will have amassed some great examples. In my writing, I write little Korean but I strive to make sure my spelling is correct. Conversely, many Koreans are quite happy to widely publicise something in crappy English, probably under the assumption that if you can tag an English sentence on your product or business sign, it is invested with greater authority. The gaff isn’t so bad, and can even be cute, on a mug or bar of chocolate; I have an old notebook on my desk on which is an enormous strawberry which a couple of years ago, when new, was scented. A caption under it reads: I’ve got a loaf of strawberries.’ But my favourite, from a packets of smoked salmon, reads:

‘Around June to September, in a something sun, 3-5 year old well-grown salmon that have brilliant gesture and swim through sea and river along the blue and dear coast of the Pacific Ocean have very good quality of flesh and taste so good and have got praised as food of low-calorie. More than one century salmon has got praise of epicures all over the world. Salmon taste from soft to strong with many nutrients and special pink colour flesh create fantastic mood and taste.’

Nursery rhymes

Ironically, the crappy English actually spurs my taste buds in anticipation of that creamy, special pink flesh, unfortunately eaten many years ago. But when the ‘company’ or individual is involved in English education or aspires to be ‘educated’, it becomes a glaring error upon which an astute reader is going to base a value judgment. Online commentary on anything regarding education demands careful checking in terms of vocabulary, grammar and spelling and should one make even the slightest mistake, it can be expected that no matter how sound the argument, your credibility will be vaporized.

I quite like nursery rhymes! No! I don’t wander around my one-room singing them to myself but as a musician, I have an appreciation for their catchy melodies. The English composer Roger Quilter wove a very successful overture, a Children’s Overture, out of nursery rhymes which I frequently happened to play as a flautist in the British Army. Quilter was a student of the extremely eccentric Australian composer, Percy Grainger.

A year ago I bought a a set of two CDs in E-Mart, badly named, English Chants and of course, a nursery rhyme is nothing like a chant. However, out of the 160 songs, I thought I was sure to find a few of use especially with classics like Humpty Dumpty, Hickory Dickory Dock and Polly put the Kettle on, included.

It was only in a bout of boredom that this week, I perused the titles of the other songs:

Time to stetch – your guess is as good as mine but I’ll go for ‘stretch’.

Going to the friend’s house – no comments!

Going to the Pediatrician, Going to the ENT Doctor and Going to Orthodontist, presume the child is both  acquainted with medical terminology and of a sickly disposition.

Going the DepartmentI can only guess is meant to be a ‘store.’

It’s a snack time – it amusing.

Want to go Potty – Who? Hilarious

Going Back from School – simply confusing!

On birthday – and whose birthday might that be?

But the king of all gaffs is, Feeding Mommy’s Milk. One still has to ask, ‘feeding mommy’s milk’ to whom? And the lyrics are classic:

Are you hungry? Are you hungry?

Feed mummy’s milk

And taste it good.

Sucking. Sucking. Sucking. Sucking

Mummy’s milk is good.

Are you done?

Hear it for yourself – drinking a glass of milk, especially with a straw, will never be the same again!

Click link below:

Are you hungry?

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Wanted: A Plastic Professorship

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, esl, Westerners by 노강호 on May 13, 2010

Have you noticed its predominantly university teachers who hand you business cards? Fingering  the little stash I’ve collected over the years, not one is from  a Haggwon teacher.  I’ve never owned business cards, but then as I’ve never sent a text message and only used an ATM machine once in the UK. I’m slightly odd.

I pine, you pine, he pine, she pine!

I wouldn’t mind handing  out a name card from a university, even a crap one but like most teachers, I would probably feel a little ashamed handing out something from an institution one notch up from a kindergarten or the kids’ party entertainer at Mac Donald’s. Even though haggwon and university pay are now fairly similar, in status there’s a world of difference between Coco the Clown’s English Academy and a University.

No matter how hard a haggwon tries to give itself credibility, names like ‘academy’ or ‘colleges’ don’t hide what most really are, factories (공장). ‘TOSS English‘ reads the bright neon strip over a college near where I live.  Despite the amusing name, it must  be successful as it has a fleet of mini buses and has been in situ for at least  8 years. However, back in the UK, ”Toss’ is slang for ‘shit’ or ‘masturbation.’ And then there’s ‘Kolon English Academy;’ Colon is the destination of the doctor’s digit when you have an extremely bad gut.  Then there are the logos, the cap and mortar board, the pillars of some classical order column. Sometimes they use letters of the Greek alphabet which in the UK would be unrecognized to all but the students of British grammar schools.

In Britain, any awareness of the roots of western civilization is relegated to 5 or 6 year-olds and hence denuded of its significance as the cradle of western civilization. The invasion of ‘ ‘Greece” by Darius in 490BC and Xerxes, 480BC, had they succeeded, would have radically altered the face of western history possibly resulting in an Islamic Europe. Mention Thermopylae to most British people and it is now associated predominantly with a comic or a partly animated, fantastical movie.  Many Korean kids can recite or narrate the Battle of Thermopylae or Marathon and some have even ‘explained to me how Socrates came to commit suicide.  As  a history teacher in the UK, I can put my hand on my heart and tell you I have never seen or heard any mention of Thermopylae , Marathon or Socrates in a British school.  For various reasons,  the most significant aspects of our history, often due to political imperatives, are demnatio memoriae.  Koreans students certainly have more awareness of classical history than do their western peers and so the column, pediments, alpha and omega,  and other little symbols of academia and learning are common but  ironically, the ‘colleges’ they represent are as genuine as the Phrontesterion in Aristophanes’ The Clouds; the silly little ‘Thinkery’ where students bend over, bum holes gazing intently at the heavens in the quest for knowledge.

Much as I love Korea, their method of teaching English needs a total overhaul and the dependence on memorizing phrases, a number of which are clumsy and strange, needs scraping.  Koreans have a similar attitude to teaching  English as they do cooking bean paste soup. I’ve told several friends I add a dash of black pepper powder to my dwaen-jang.  They were shocked and repeated ‘pepper’ several times as though I’d said I piss in it.  Then they told me that black pepper wasn’t part of ‘the recipe,’ as if there is only one recipe, only one way to do it. Korean education is very successful, but their standard of English, despite the haggwons and schools, is dire. Perhaps if they treated English education more like  ‘pushion pood (fusion food), squirting jam over pizzas, replacing mozarella with that stretchy, play cheese, or sweet potato and dipping bistro hotdogs in a concoction of syrup, mustard and red pepper paste, standards might improve. ”I’m  pine,’ ‘Have a nice day,’ ‘pleased to meet you,’ ‘ drive you to suicide. And then there’s the constant American twang but that can wait until a future post!

Currently, I’m waiting for my business cards to arrive and they will probably carry my school’s logo, a cartoony character but I’m not particularly bothered. I’ve worked in enough language factories and a high school,  to know that my boss has genuine intentions and besides, my loyalty is won because my conditions are probably superior to those of most university teachers whose pay is no longer way in advance of a haggwon teacher and whose holidays, at one time a guaranteed four months have been whittled down and interpolated with various obligations. My boss and her family have been close friends of mine for over ten years and have even vacationed with me in England. Though I would  love  to become a professor, albeit a plastic one, working in a university, for me at least, would be a step down.

A teacher from the Coco the Clown Phrontesterion of English. (I'm Pine and You)

Of course, most university teachers, instructors, give you a name card not because they teach in a university, but to impress on you the fact they are ‘professors.’ Professors are the officer class of Korean teachers with haggwon teachers relegated to ‘rank and file.’ Yes, I would probably do exactly the same but it is non the less amusing in its snobbery.  Name cards of the highest status carry ‘professor’ in both Korean (교수)  and hanja (敎授) in order to separate them from ones simply in English. I’d probably have mine embossed in gold. In reality however, it’s the knowledge and skills of a ‘professor’ I would like and not merely a hollow title. By English standards, I’m not too clear how it works in the USA, a ‘professorship’ is a position, ‘a chair,’ awarded to top academics and not a title conferred merely by teaching in a university.  Despite the demise of standards in the UK and the ascendancy of ape values, you still read or hear of academics being ‘invited’ to a professorship.

What, by gad! No dickie?

Last year I spent several days adjudicating a speaking competition with three professors all of whom gave me name cards. Two wore  little silk dickie bow ties and the other a complete set of plus fours and matching walking cane.  When I first saw him, from a distance,  I thought it was Sherlock Holmes until  I heard his American accent. He didn’t have a pipe but his plus fours were real and actually made of tweed. Ironically, I’d met this chap before, some 6 years previously when we worked together in an academy ‘factory.’ Before the plus fours and business card, and of course, ‘professorship,’ he used to turn up for work looking like a backpacker, his hair never combed and his clothes disheveled and scruffy. One day, I recall my old boss consulting me as to whether it was acceptable to offer to buy him some new clothes. If I’d known at the time what I now know I’d have simply suggested conferring a professorship upon him and buying him some appropriate name cards. The rest would have taken care of itself.

Even when I’ve known teachers who for one reason or another moved from university to hagwon, from the status of ‘plastic professor’ to that of a boring ‘teacher,’  they’ve initially introduced themselves, or been introduced to me as, ‘professor.’ Further, not only have they continued wearing the dicky bow, but they’ve insisted students call them by title.

I’m a snob, academia, the classics, the entire gamut from music, art literature to history, Oxford, Cambridge, public schools, grammar schools, dickie bows, waist coats and plus fours, professors, even plastic professors, I adore them all. When I was a boy, this was what constituted education and refinement and through out my twenties I aspired to it. Sadly, by the time I got to university, in my early thirties, the gown, mortar board and anything ‘classical,’ if not already on a heap in the college quad, were on their way! And now, well, every Tom, Dick and Harry have a degree – usually in hair dressing or business studies. As much as I mock plastic professors, tongue in cheek, a least the title sets you apart from the herd. Sadly, of all my university friends, some of whom are university lecturers, professors, some even renowned in academic circles, few embraced ‘the classical’ with any passion in little other than their individual subjects. I don’t want to leave my current occupation, that would be foolish, but secretly, I would love one of those business cards and the snobbery of calling myself a ‘professor.’ Is it possible to teach a lesson or two a week in a university, even a poxy one, and ‘earn’ the title ‘professor,’ or even ‘associate professor?’ If so, pathetic as it is, I want the job!”

I'm Pine! And you?

Posted in Diary notes, esl by 노강호 on April 24, 2010

Are you an ESL teacher in  Korea?  Bored of teaching? Tired of asking the same questions day in and day out? Suicidal at hearing the same flat, dull and unemotional responses? Look no further! Simply download the PDF, copy and distribute to your students. Then sit back and enjoy the laugh.

I’M PINE is a mini dialogue for 3 characters designed to  raise awareness of mispronunciation and provide some amusement for bored teachers. If you have the energy you can explain to your class the differences between, for example, ‘fine’ and ‘pine’ or you can simply hand out the script and let them get on with it.



FINE (Mr Fine walks into the Fish-shop)

SK Hello Mr Fine. How are you today?

FINE I’m pine and you?

SK I’m fine too. What would you like to buy? I  have some lovely seafood this  morning.

FINE Shi-pood! Ohh, Lovery!  What have you got?

SK I have some nice fish, cod, and delicious mackerel.

FISH (suddenly Mr Fish walks in)

FINE I want some pish!

FISH Well, here I am Mr Pine. Good morning?

FINE Good morning Mr Pish, have you come for a pish.

FISH Well, Mr Pine you do look pine. Yes, I’ve come for a pish, I love a pish on a priday.

FINE Yes, pish is so tasty and lovery. I was going to have a presh pish but I think I might have a crap instead.

FISH What sort of crap do you like?

FINE I love big, fat brown ones, esperarry with big craws. A big crap boiled is best and better than a robster. Mmm, dericious. I like my pood presh. What sort of pish do you like Mr Pish?

FISH I love a long one. Long ones are more tasty. The longer the pish the better. Mmm, tasty. (MR FISH TURNS TO SK) Can I have a long pish please? Pish and pren-chee pry – dericious!

SK Pish and cherry pie? I wish you’d speak Engrish!   

FINE And I want a big crap, a big brown crap that will fill my pot.

SK Ooooo! sorry gentlemen! You can’t pish here and you can’t crap! That’s tewibble, disgusting. If you want a pish or a crap go to the toilet!

FISH Pardon, I don’t understand. I only want a pish please.

FINE And I just want a crap, a big brown one.

SK You’re disgusting, nasty people. Go away!

FISH But, I don’t understand. This is a shi-pood shop.

FINE Yes, a pish shop is where you go for a crap.

FISH And a pish!

SK Go away! You’re very bad! Get out!

(Mr FISH and FINE walk down the road very confused why they could not buy fish or crab at a fish shop.)

FINE What a strange man Mr Pish. There are so many strange people. Last night I asked my neighbour if she’d like to see penus out of my window.

FISH How big was it? Was it ra-gee?

FINE Oooo! it was the big. Very big. I’ve never seen it so ra-gee.

FISH Was it shinny, too?

FINE Of course, Penus is always big and shiny.

FISH Was she excited? I would have been.

FINE No, she wasn’t excited at all. She was tewibbly frightened.

FISH What did you say?

FINE I said hurry, hurry Mrs Dick, you can see Penus out of my window and it is really big and shiny.

FISH What happened next?

FINE Her husband came to the door. ‘Puck you!’ He said,  and hit me in the pace with his pist.

the end…

I’m Pine PDF

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More Mogyoktang Observations – March 26th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Today at the mokyoktang  a boy of about 11 or 12 came in which was quite unusual as usually children are at school. However, I noticed he had a rub down from one of the masseurs and this is done on a couch to one side of the central bathing area. The whole procedure was quite intimate with the boy lying naked and the masseur rubbing away at his body with an abrasive cloth. This procedure lasted about twenty minutes as during it I visited the steam room and several saunas.

I was interested just to see how intimate the rub was as in the future I might dare to have one. In addition, I was also interested to see if adults were treated any different from children. At one point the masseur jammed his knee on the boys inner thigh and sort of splayed him so he could rub his crotch. The idea of a stranger having this much access to  a child without their parent’s there would be deemed abhorrent in the west and it quite disheartens me that we are so fucked up about this in our society. When I was having my final shower, a cold one which I take to lower my body temperature so I am not sweating when I leave the mokyoktang, the boy was sat upright and the masseur was rubbing his neck and face. The masseur, was naked too!

After I have had my cold shower, I spend five minutes in the drying room. This is pamper city and a few of my gay friends would love this facility. The rooms are always long and with large mirrors on the walls which takes more getting used to than the other naked men around you. There are large fans on the table tops which you can direct on your wet body and also hair dryers. I have noticed many men using the hair dryers to dry their pubic hair and I have also started doing this. On the surrounding tables are a range of lotions, hair creams, body conditioners and after shave. I put several concoctions on my face and then use some hair cream. Combs are lying on the bench tops or you can take one from the comb sterilising machine.

I quite like watching Korean men preen as they do so in such a totally faggy way. Today there was an elderly man next to me who combed his hair in a really fruity way and then rubbed various lotions onto his face. Finally, he daintily patted his face and hair with a towel. There is always a huge stack of lovely clean, white towels and you can use as many of these as you wish. I am still surprised at the vigour with which Koreans preen themselves, they trim their nails, trim their nasal hair, poke at their ears with cotton buds and when they leave, pick up their newly polished shoes from the shoe cleaner at the premises’ entrance. I have noticed the hairs on my arms and legs disappearing from the amount of scrubbing they have been receiving. I have realised that Koreans preen and clean their bodies with as much vigour and enthusiasm as we in the west might apply to our cars or motorbikes.

I had wondered what it would be like to meet someone you work with, by accident, in a mokyoktang. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. Last week I was having my first shower after my arriving at the closest mokyoktang to my apartment. As I was still a little shy I hung around in the shower until there weren’t too many people in my path before walking over to the large pool. There was only one other person in the pool as I could clearly see the top of their head. Well, just as I had stepped up onto the parapet, this person, at the far end of the pool, waved and shouted my name. It was Lee Seong-gyu (이성규) from Di Dim Dol hakgwon. It was actually quite an amusing experience to be caught totally naked and in full view by a friend. Anyway, Lee Seong-gyu and I have now met several times and bathed together. It is handy having a friend as they can rub and scrub your back for you.

Song-gyu and I, in 2001. I still bump into him in saunas ten years later! Incidentally, my trainers were New Balance, unheard of in Korea then but which 12 years later are the most popular training shoe on the market.

In the steam room of one mokyoktang there is always a large box of salt on the seats and salt is strewn all over the floor. I have noticed it is used for scrubbing your body rather like an aggressive ex-foliate.

I have just had lunch in a small restaurant I have been frequenting for the last week. For several months now I have been doing my own cooking and learning how to cook Korean food but to be honest, it’s  far cheaper eating out! I ate pokkum bap (복음 밥), a sort of fried rice with an egg on top. As I left the restaurant, one of the chefs, a woman in her thirties or forties, and who seems to have developed an interest in me, gave me a slice of fruit. I asked if it was an apple and when I bit into it I discovered it was some sort of parsnip. The street on which the restaurant is situated is very close to my home and is flanked on both sides by maple trees which are just starting to leaf. The air was warm even though it was 8pm and dark. Spring seems to have been jumped as the weather is suddenly as warm as it would be on an average summer’s day in Britain. On my way home, I walked past the local hapkido school where I could hear kids chanting out the rhythm to some exercise which was interrupted, intermittently, by loud slaps from the mat.

Chi-woo, I imagine he’s now almost in high-school

Korean children are beautiful! Everyday Chi-woo (이치우) sits on my lap on the journey to the school. He always gives me a kiss on the cheek and teaches me how to count in Chinese. Korean uses both Korean and Chinese counting systems. In fact, Korean numbers only go as far as 99. Some things are counted in Chinese, others in Korean. There is rarely competition between the children and they share sweets and treats. Even at four years of age they are impeccably ordered and will put their toys away at the end of playtime and then pick up any paper or mess on the floor. At lunchtime they all help with laying the tables and clearing away. None of the children smell of piddle or shitty pants and they are all toilet trained – at least as far as going for a crap. This week however, two boys in my class pissed themselves. Dong-seop (동섭) left my class for a ‘shee’ (씨) and came back leaving pissy footprints on the carpet. I should have gone to the toilet with him for he had pulled down his trousers and long johns and then pissed into them. The same thing happened with a new boy called Seong-jun (성준). The next day I made sure I went with them and when they stood with their pants down I stuck my knee into their backs so they pissed into the urinal.

Da-hae (다해), the brain-dead moron, has suddenly come out of her shell and every morning she runs up to me for a hug. She still dribbles. The other day I noticed pen marks on a wall and I jokingly motioned for her to salivate over them –  with her tongue. Amusingly, she went to do this. I had rarely heard Da-hae (다해) speak up until about a month ago and in fact she has a really deep, gruff voice rather like the monster-girl in the Exorcist.

Last week there was an open day for the parents and each class in turn had respective parents watching the lesson. My class went fantastically well. I just did the same sort of things I do every morning: counting, reciting the days of the week, singing songs and doing some alphabet and written work. I choose to do work the children could manage so as to show their parents’ they had learnt something. Afterwards, I talked to each parent in turn with Precious interpreting for me. Koreans like you to be intimate with their children and they could clearly see I had a good relationship with them. I think they left feeling impressed and afterwards, Precious told me my class had been the best. However, complaints had been made about Matt and Angela’s classes. Apparently, parents didn’t think they had much control and their biggest gripe was with their earrings, shoddy clothes and unkempt hair. Some mornings, Angela looks like a scarecrow with bits of fluff and paper in her hair and with it messy all over. Mr Joe asked me if he should take them down town and buy them some new clothes.

I went to my doctor last week, about Bill, my small umbilical hernia. He has a new surgery close to the E-Mart which he proudly introduced me to. He has a new endoscope, an ultra sound, an x-ray room and various other rooms. The waiting room was beautiful with ornamental plants, a large fish tank and a station to make tea and coffee. I was in his office over forty-five minutes and had an ultra-sound on my stomach which I watched on his monitor. He tells me I have a small muscular tear which should clear up of its own accord but so far it hasn’t done I’m sure if it was a hernia he would have noticed it as he clearly showed me thew tear on the screen and estimated its size. The consultation cost me W10.000, just under five pounds and I didn’t have to wait any more than five minutes to see him. He is the first doctor I have had that I can truly call, my doctor.

My weekends are very busy and there are always friends trying to take me out or visit me. In fact, I hardly have any spare time at weekends now. Last weekend I met Pak U-chun and her daughter, Ga-in.  We met downtown, in the area known as Ex-Milano, where we visited lots of shops and just walked around talking. Korean children are rarely any nuisance and are used to spending time with adults. We walked around the Buddhist area where there are shops which sell clothes for monks, calligraphy brushes and paper and then moved into the more fashionable part of town. As on previous visits, a demonstration was in progress and as usual it was ordered. There were perhaps two hundred demonstrators sat in rows in a large pedestrian intersection. Many westerners here, whether civilian, military or teachers are usually an embarrassment and dress like slobs and are usually loud and in your face. We ate the most wonderful meal in a restaurant that specialises in spicy chicken which is cooked on a barbecue at your table. After, we went for an ice-cream at a Baskin Robbins.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

My Birthday – December 27th – 31st 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in esl, Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on December 27, 2000

Not being happy certainly curtails writing a diary, as well as other things in my life. However, after several confrontations with Jo, in which we all threatened to resign, things have cheered up a little. Jo has promised that I won’t be teaching in the Yon San Dong school much more than a month when I will go back to teaching in Song So. However, I don’t really trust him.

Chi-u, a young Einstein

The new school is hard work and we each have around 7.5 contact time a day with classes. The first four hours are purely kindergarten classes for kids of very rich parents. Their parents fork out around 800.000KW for the first month then pay subsequent monthly tuition fees of 450.000KW. These amounts work out at something like 500 and 250 UK pounds. I have never seen kids so well dressed and Koreans spend a lot of time and effort presenting their children. One of my favourite pupils is a three-year old boy called Lee Chi-Woo (이치우) who is in effect two years old. In Korea, a child is one the day they are born so you always have to minus one from their age to make them comparable with westerners. I am told this habit arose because when Korea was poor, many children died before their first birthday. Second birthdays here, especially for boys, are a very important affair. I have yet to see Chi-Woo (이치우) in the same little outfit twice. He can already speak a fair amount of English and every morning, when he sits next to me on the hagwon bus, he asks how I am and will then proceed to ask ‘What’s this?’ and ‘What’s that?’ His memory is quite amazing as next day he will have remembered all the previous morning’s words.

Jo’s School, ‘Letter and Sound,’ is a kindergarten in the morning and a hagwon in the afternoon when the middle schools  finish. We don’t have the equivalent of hagwons  in the UK; they are private schools which teach a range of subjects outside normal school hours and to which most children go in addition to state schooling. Normal schools are known as hakkyos (학교). There are hagwons on probably every street in a Korean town and many don’t close until 10 or 11 pm. Like the Taekwondo schools, piano academies, ballet schools and art schools, hagwons always have their own fleet of brightly coloured minibuses which ferry students between designated pick up points and their respective establishments. The ‘Letter and Sound’ bus picks me up every morning from near my apartment.

Jong Hoon – a great kid but a total nutter!

I think the kindy will do quite well financially as it is really about keeping the kids out of the parents way as much as it is about them learning. My class has only four five-year old kids; two boys, Dong-seop (동섭) and Jeong-hoon (중훈) and three girls. Jeong-hoon (중훈) is a total nutter who throws himself about without any concern for his safety. This week he arrived at school with a cut chin and bashed nose. He speaks the best English of the four kids and is very bright. Then there is Dong-seop (동섭) who has no spatial skills and cannot decide whether he is left or right-handed. I try to help him draw a letter but when I leave his side he just scrawls on the paper. I have nicknamed him ‘Picasso.’  My two girls are fucking brain-dead. It’s quite disgusting how there seems to be a universal trend in encouraging girls to be wriggly little pathetic things that must whimper and second themselves to the brashness of boys. This trend seems particularly more acute in Korea than in the west, though maybe I am being too critical. On of the girls is Da-hae (다해), slips off her chair onto the floor every time I speak to her and when she does utter a sound it is in a revolting girly manner. The other girl is Ji-soo (치수) and to get her to respond I have to call her name about twenty times and then poke her.

What does Annie Apple say?’ I chant, and then someone shouts out a long ‘A’ as in father. I say, ‘No, Annie says ‘A,’ as in cat.’ The kids are sick and fed up of Annie Apple and Bouncy Ben alphabet songs. The accompanying videos have characters with regional British accents and of course the kids find this confusing. Annie Apple talks like a Somerset cider slob and Clever Cat has a frightfully posh Oxford accent. Then there are the story books with phrases like ‘skiddly doo doo’ which is a nightmare trying to explain to small children. Even when there are cassettes with Korean interpretations on them the pronunciations are bad. Bouncy Ben, for example, is always pronounced ‘Bounshey Ben’ and this has become a bit of a joke between Pauline and I.

In class I call myself Bilbo Baggins and have written this, in Korean, on my wall.  I have decided I don’t want any of the kids knowing my real name. In the short space of a couple of weeks I have become adept at totally degrading myself in the singing of kiddy songs all accompanied with mad facial expressions or hand actions. Suddenly I am like a character out of Play School. I can even degrade myself in front of parents. I take kids out to piss, wipe their noses and comfort them when upset. None of this was in my contract and I definitely stipulated that I wanted to teach middle, or high school kids.

Nana moved out of the apartment this week and Matt, a new teacher from New Zealand has moved in with me. Matt seems a good laugh. On Thursday another teacher, Angela, arrived from New Zealand. She is a friend of Matt’s.

My Birthday, Dec 30th, 2000. Pak Jun-ee and Sun-hee (left) and Pauline (far right)

Taekwondo is off the cards until after the winter vacation finishes which is  in a week or so. I don’t finish my classes in time to go training and besides I’m too tired.

On a Wednesday evening I teach Pak Ji-won (박지원) English in the restaurant besides the Shin-woo supermarket in Song So. I spent my birthday here and the family have sort of adopted me. Ji-won is very attractive but he’s only 18 and like so many Korean boys, androgynous. I suspect if anyone touched the front of his pants he wouldn’t have a clue what they were doing. This is no criticism, I love the innocence that seems to typify so many Korean teenagers and which is so different to many of the promiscuous male and female whores I’ve taught in the West.

I taught Ji-won every Saturday for most of 2001. He is now one of my closest Korean friends.

On Friday I had to go to U-chun’s and teach her daughter and niece English. I really like her and if I had to leave Korea now I would be sad because she is such a fun person. She was supposed to be giving me Korean lessons in exchange for English lessons but this seems to have been forgotten but her company is payment enough.

On Saturday it snowed really heavily but the temperature has risen and it is no longer minus 15. The snow has set and Matt and I met up with U-chun at the local E Mart. This is the local supermarket. Then we got a taxi to the local Baskin Robbins which was amusing as I asked for three big pots of ice-cream and of course, Koreans are never so greedy and generally share a pot – and probably a smaller pot too! After that we walked down the main road, through busy and around the university campus. From a high spot on the campus we add a view straight down the wide main road that leads all the way back down to Song-So and beyond which must at least be a few miles. Though it was afternoon, a cold mist hung over the entire city.

I telephoned my sister on my birthday and the call, which lasted an hour, cost a staggering £80. (note – today I can call unlimited for next to nothing).


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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.